Alaska’s Battle Over Parental Notification

Back in 2010 voters in Alaska approved a parental notification law that requires physicians to notify the parents of underage patients before performing an abortion. The law includes an exception for victims of sexual abuse, but to use it teens must get a notarized statement saying they were abused. The law also included some pretty severe penalties against doctors who failed to comply with the law. Planned Parenthood of the Northwest filed suit against the law and a judge ruled in December of 2010 that it could go into effect, but removed the portions that required a $1000 fine and imprisonment of doctors who failed to comply as well as a provision allowing doctors to be held liable for damages.

Planned Parenthood continues to fight in court against the law and in September had to defend against the states Assistant Attorney General’s claim that certain aspects of their case do not actually need to be heard at an evidentiary hearing and should therefore be thrown out before the full trial begins. Judge Sudduck pointed out that while he felt the state’s arguments were accurate “in a sense”, he had to consider the Alaskan judicial system, which according to him is “strongly imbued with the principle that each party is entitled to its day in court and to present the facts it deems significant.” So basically, he is going to allow Planned Parenthood to argue their full case against the law as opposed to just certain aspects of it. The trial is scheduled for January 2012.

On the surface level, I can totally understand parental notification and even laws. After all, if your teenage daughter can have her ears pierced without parental consent, should she be allowed to have an abortion? If you think about it in such basic terms it’s understandable. Plus, most teens actually do tell their parents they are pregnant and seeking an abortion. Not all of them of course, but most of them.

 The problem is that piercings are not the same as an abortion. Sure, a parent may not be happy with the idea that their daughter gets a piercing, and in an abusive home this may well lead to severe punishment if done without parental permission. An abortion however is much more complicated. A teen that becomes pregnant from a sexually abusive parent or parental figure is going to find it much harder to tell her parents that she is pregnant and needs an abortion. Same with a teen from a super religious family who may well kick her out of her home for seeking an abortion.

I suppose extremes such as these examples are why an exception was included, but the way the exception has been handled will make things just as difficult and dangerous for the teens it is designed to protect. In most states, notaries are not bound by a confidentiality law, meaning whoever a teen goes to for her notarized statement of abuse can tell anyone they please. More importantly, all medical professionals who encounter an underage patient who reports sexual abuse are required to report it to authorities. These authorities will then become involved in the girls life, potentially alerting her abuser and putting her safety in jeopardy. There is just no real way for a parental consent or notification law to protect teen girls adequately. They only way they can be certain of their safety is if they are able to access abortion on their own, if they want to.


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